Google is piloting a new way to bring local news about the COVID-19 pandemic to its Google News application. In partnership with regional news publications in select cities across the U.S., the Google News app will now offer a dedicated section in select markets detailing critical information like community reopening timelines, business updates, school openings, as well as information on the local healthcare infrastructure, public transportation, events, and ways to help families in need.
At launch, the new feature is available for readers in Raleigh, Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Lafayette, Columbus, Portland, Cleveland, Myrtle Beach, Albany, Sarasota, Cap Girardeau, Richmond, Memphis, Cincinnati, Boston, New York, Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis.
To access the newly added local information, app users will click on the COVID-19 banner which directs them to the existing section focused on coverage of the coronavirus outbreak. They will then scroll down to find the new “Local news” section directly underneath the “Top News” section.
This new section won’t be shown if the user’s city or town isn’t yet covered. However, you can force the section to display by selecting one of the supported cities and making that your city in the Google News app.
To deliver this local information, Google is working in partnership with 21 news organizations for the supported markets, including Raleigh’s The News & Observer, NOLA.com, CBS Chicago, Oregon Live and Gothamist, among others. The news organizations must already provide this COVID-19 information in the form of short-form content. For example, this page from The News & Observer offers a brief list of updates as bullet points which Google can easily re-publish to the Local News section of the Google News app.
The app will still allow users to click through to the local publication to read more.
Google tells us that all publishers will have to offer news a similar format to be included for the time being. In other words, Google isn’t automatically creating short-form summaries from news articles to fill this section.
The local COVID-19 news feature is currently in pilot testing, but Google plans to expand coverage across the U.S. and Canada in the future. It also plans to offer the feature outside of the Google News mobile app itself.
To some extent, the addition is a way for Google to offer its own version of Facebook’s “Community Help” feature, which the social network expanded in March due to the COVID-19 crisis. Facebook’s hub today offers a way for users to get information about how the coronavirus outbreak is impacting their own local region and what they can do to help. Google’s feature also arrives at a time when Flipboard has splashed back onto the scene with its new focus on local coverage, including coronavirus updates.
And of course there’s Google News app’s direct rival, the Apple News app. Apple News has also added its own take on local coverage with a “City Guides” section in its own COVID-19 special coverage area. These city guides focus on providing essential knowledge about testing, resources, jobs, and more for larger U.S. metros.
In addition to the update to the Google News app, Google says it’s recently expanded access to local news on Search and Google Assistant, as well.
Now when people search for coronavirus information on Google Search, they’ll see both a top stories carousel as well as a new dedicated local news carousel. Google also expanded its new carousel highlighting top tweets from local and health authorities in more than 30 countries.
Meanwhile, users can ask Google Assistant for local coronavirus news by saying something like “Hey Google, play news about coronavirus in Boston,” in select markets.
Google has also financially contributed to local news organizations itself in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, having recently provided emerging funding for over 5,300 local news organizations around the world, ranging from $5,000 – $30,000. The company said it expects to spend “tens of millions” through this Journalism Emergency Relief Fund. Plus, Google recently launched a Support Local News campaign to encourage people and businesses to subscribe, donate and advertise across local news outlets in the U.S. and Canada.